The Board of Finance met on Tuesday, April 23, to approve the $200.6 million-plus fiscal year 2019/20 budget recommendations that calls for a 3.6 percent tax increase.
The finance board will seek approval of the budget package at the upcoming City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 14.
The General Fund Operating budget was presented with an estimated total of $200,614,740 with a mill rate of 38.22. The 2018-19 budget was $194,409,185 with a mill rate of 36.88 mills. That amounts to a 3.2 percent increase.
Commissioners Cheryl Thibeault and Jake Carrier both voted against the budget, with Thibeault saying “we could have done better with efficiencies,” and Carrier agreed.
BOF chair John Smith, vice chair Orlando Calfe, Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, and Commissioner Marie O’Brien all shared that they felt the budget was as lean as it could be, while still offering taxpayers an array of services.
“I wish that we could have put more money in this budget frankly because I think there are things that need to be done that we are not able to do, and unfortunately, all of those things cost money,” said Smith. “I understand there are some people who have trouble affording [a 1.34 mill rate increase] that but we have an obligation to them, to ourselves, and to the future residents of this city to push ahead and make difficult decisions that make Bristol a better place, not the same place, a better place. So there’s no question that I support this budget.”
The budget proposal was approved with seven votes for (Commissioner Mike Lamothe was not present but had a letter of support read by Calfe) and two votes against.
O’Brien made a motion to add the “main library LED lighting conversion project,” to the capital budget. It was proposed at an amount of $333,970, which would be funded by bonded. Director of Public Works, Ray Rogozinski, said the project would have a payback period of approximately four years. It was unanimously approved.
The 2019-2020 capital budget was recommended for approval by the board in an amount of $7,340,615.
Thibeault put forth a motion to amend the recommendation, which would eliminate the $100,000 needed to conduct a study on a city-wide fiber network. The motion was seconded by Carrier. Carrier had originally approved the funding, but said that he has since changed his mind due to information he learned through research.
Thibeault, who has 19 years worth of experience in the telecommunications industry, said that while the cost for this year would only be $100,000, the city-wide fiber network “leads into the out years of [a] projected cost of $65 million.”
“I think that we would find that by the time we even had the fiber finished we’d probably be obsolete. I don’t think this is a good investment, I know this is just for a study,” said Thibeault, “but $100,000 can go a long way in other areas, and overall, it just goes with my theory [that] this is nothing we should be dabbling in as a city, this isn’t where our expertise is.”
O’Brien said she supports having the funds in the capital budget, as she believes it “is a true economic benefit for our city eventually, and it’s worth looking at.” She said that while she has always liked the idea of this project, she has had some questions (such as seeing the total projected costs grow from $10 million to $65 million), but feels a comprehensive study would allow many of those questions to be answered.
In a split vote of seven to two, Thibeault’s amendment failed. The capital budget was approved with the inclusion of the $100,000, with only Thibeault voting against the full amount.